After serial killer Shawn Grate, 41, was sentenced to death Friday in Ashland County for the aggravated murder of two women, there was a feeling of closure and relief among family members and their communities.
But there's a woman whose family and friends don't even know she was murdered.
More than a decade after police uncovered her body in a roadside ditch in Marion County, Ohio authorities are expanding the search to identify another woman Grate confessed to killing. He was not charged with her murder and told investigators he believed her to be a magazine saleswoman, but did not know her identity. Authorities believed Grate when he told them he said he dumped her body in a roadside ditch off Victory Road and returned months later to burn it, leaving nothing but her bones.
Recent scientific discovery regarding those bones may have helped authorities uncover where she was from, getting them one step closer to finding out about the life of a woman who met a tragic end.
The Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation and Marion County Sheriff Tim Bailey requested help from law enforcement in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas in a public bulletin sent Tuesday morning. The request was made after recent isotope analysis of the victim's bones by the University of South Florida, where the remains were sent for testing.
Oxygen isotope values indicate she was likely born in one of the six states, according to the bulletin. The test also revealed she likely spent the last five years of her life in Texas, Florida or the Caribbean. A full DNA profile has been generated from her remains, but no matches have been found. The victim was 15 to 30 years old at the time of her death. She had brown hair, was between 5-foot-3 inches and 5-foot-9 inches and weighed 100-150 pounds.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said expanding the search to those states increases the likelihood of someone recognizing the woman's face based on a previous sketch and a facial reconstruction created last year. The bulletin requests that authorities in those states also examine missing-persons reports and contact the Marion County Sheriff's Office if any case is a potential match.
"We want to do everything we can to notify the relatives and friends," DeWine said. "We feel a moral obligation to do everything we can do (to identify the victim.)"
Bailey said his office has spent the last 11 years dealing with the frustration over the the case, following leads all over the country and even the world. He remains hopeful about discovering her identity.
"We are going to continue to persevere and work this with the idea that eventually, somewhere, somehow, we're going to find out who this young woman is," he said.
Grate was arrested on Sept. 13, 2016, after the bodies of Elizabeth Griffith and Stacey Stanley were found in his Ashland house. Their bodies were discovered after a third woman Grate abducted was able to escape and call the police on his phone while he was sleeping. Since his arrest, Grate confessed to three additional murders, including the Marion County woman and two other Richland County women. The Richland County Prosecutor's Office is currently reviewing the Richland County cases.
Anyone with information on the identity of the female found in Marion County is urged to call the Ohio Bureau of Criminal Investigation at 740-845-2406 or Marion County Sheriff's Detective Chris Utley at 740-382-8244 ext. 5120.
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